Australian farmers facing Day Zero in land where it hasn't rained for three years

  • Video report by ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward

Australia is no stranger to drought, and indeed floods.

But for the past few years it been experiencing extreme, more prolonged periods of dry and hot weather and parts of the country are suffering a critical shortage of water.

We visited an area in Central New South Wales where it hasn’t rained in three years.

They’ve had some showers but not enough to allow the crops to grow and for the first time several farmers are having to buy feed for their animals.

There is nothing on the land for the cattle and sheep to graze so every day their owners are having to go out and feed them.

On the Larkin Farm in Tooraweenah we met Philippa Larkin who told us her crops have failed for the past three years, her herd has dropped from 400 to 100 and those she’s managing to keep are living on ‘survival rations’.

In the field where we filmed her feeding her cattle there were the carcasses of three cows who had fallen victim to the elements.

A dusty 150 kilometre (93 mile) drive south of the Larkin farm we met Kevin Kilby and his wife Jenny.

He’s one of those who's had to buy feed for the first time and he says it’s the driest three years since records began in Gilgandra.

He had to make the decision this year whether to feed or sell his sheep.

For now he’ll buy feed for them and hope the rain comes in time to allow him to produce his own.

The remains of one of the cows who couldn't survive in the dusty land. Credit: ITV News

What they are experiencing at the moment in this part of Australia is unprecedented.

Previous droughts have meant a below average rainfall. This time several places have had no rain at all.

On November 1 the town of Dubbo raised its water restriction level to 4 out of 6 and it is still only spring.

Ten towns have already been given a Day Zero in the area - the day next year when the taps could run dry.

For the first time farmer Kevin Kilby has had to buy feed for his sheep as it's the driest three years since records began in Gilgandra. Credit: ITV News

The prolonged drought is now being compounded by higher than average temperatures.

In some parts they are up by as much as 10 degrees above normal for this time of year.

The exceptionally dry ground and high temperatures have led to the worst start on record of the bushfire season and the extra water needed to fight the intense blazes is putting an additional strain on water supplies.

As one climatologist, Tim Flannery, put it to me: “Climate change is here and now in Australia."

The more severe weather conditions are a result of global factors which are raising sea, air and land temperatures.

In Australia this extreme environment is likely to prevail and is already putting stress on all aspects of life.

This year's harvest is predicted to be the lowest in a decade and it has forced the country to import grain, which in turn has led to inflated food and feed prices.

The country's National Farmers Federation is campaigning for more money and resources to guarantee better water security.

There are sources to be explored - boring and desalination are available options - but the infrastructure and funds to further exploit them are not there yet.

The Australian government - like many - is facing criticism for failing to accept the challenges of climate change, and not preparing for those challenges before they became a reality.

Its people, systems and species are now on the frontline of one of the biggest battles facing the planet.

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